Lost: One opportunity for a parent to nurture the faith of their child at home. Looks like a simple folded piece of paper. Colorful illustrations of children on the front, Bible story on the inside, note to families on the back. Last seen lying near a juice box on the floor of an SUV.
A mother once asked me if I had survived Sunday school with her child that day. I laughed and said that the session had actually been really wonderful, we’d learned about how God created the world and that her son would be coming home with the creation collage he’d made. The mom groaned and said, “Another thing I’ll have to sneak into the garbage this week.” Cue the awkward pause.
As I reflect on that conversation now and consider the lost opportunity that mom had to nurture her son’s faith as they used what he’d made to talk about God’s story, I also think about how I as a children’s ministry leader and we as a church had missed this opportunity: to encourage and equip parents by helping them to see the pieces their children bring home from church as valuable faith formation tool.
An hour in a children’s ministry program provides children with the chance to spend time living into and out of God’s story but when we omit the church and home connection, children are missing out on the chance to continue the conversation at home with the people who are the most significant influence in their lives—their parents. Read on for four ideas to try as your church strives to encourage and equip families to nurture faith at home by building on what was learned in your children’s ministry program.
Choose carefully. When choosing curriculum for your congregation, check out the pieces that are designed for families to use at home. Look for ideas that are do-able for families of all shapes and sizes. And pay attention to theology! A take home that helps Junior learn a virtue of the week may be character building, but does it also invite families to have faith nurturing questions which will help children (and parents!) find their place in the story of a faithful God?
Change the name. “Don’t forget your paper!” isn’t exactly a call to action for a child who’s heading home after Sunday school. Help "take-it-homes" make it home by giving them an action inspiring name. For example, in the Dwell curriculum children in grades K-3 receive a “Show and Share” paper. Each week the children are reminded they have a job to do—they are to show and share the story on their paper with someone else. The grades 2-3 level includes activities that children are to do on their way home and at the grades 4-5 level children use a “Storymark” during the session and use it again at home to mark the story in their Bible. Tip: As children leave for home ask. “Who will you show and share the Bible story with today?”
Communicate. Let parents know what their children are learning. Many curricula include a “Dear Family” message with every unit. Use them! Do your families prefer email? Use the downloadable version and email it home. Want to ensure that they open the email? Include an updated photo of their child’s small group in action.
Show and Tell. I admit that when my four kids attended Sunday school, their take home papers papers didn’t always make it out of the car and into the house. (Neither did the bits of Cheerios, sippy cups and fast food restaurant toys.) Partly because we were so busy that it was all we could do to get everyone into the house, but mostly because I was unaware of the great potential that those small pieces of paper held to help me nurture my kids faith and I figured they had learned all they needed from the storyteller at church. Sound familiar? Encourage and equip the families of the children you serve by hosting a Family Event one Sunday after church—when families are already in the building. During the event families can meet the leaders and helpers, peek into their meeting space, and discover how to use the home pieces they will be receiving to continue the conversations their child had at church, at home. Faith Alive offers two free, downloadable family events that congregations which use Dwell can use to kick-start the church education year. (You’ll find them here and here.) Even if you aren’t using Dwell you’ll find practical ideas those free events for how you might engage families with what the children will be learning in the coming year.
Found: Multiple opportunities for parents and children to enter into God’s story together as they wonder and reflect on what their children learned at church. Looks like a simple piece of folded paper. Colorful illustrations on the front, Bible story in the middle, note to families on the back. Nurtures faith at bedtime, mealtime and cuddle time.